Two years ago Nadiya Savchenko was a war hero, returning to Ukraine after spending two years in Russian prison. Today she stands accused of numerous crimes, including attempting to overthrow Ukraine’s constitutional order, threatening the life of Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko and plotting a terrorist attack.
On March 23, the Shevchenkivskyi court chose a pre-trial measure for Savchenko: she will be held in custody for 59 days. The set of articles that incriminate her do not leave for any decision other than imprisonment. If Savchenko is proved to be guilty, she faces an imprisonment for life.
Savchenko, a former aviation pilot in the Ukrainian Ground Forces, gained hero status following her May 2016 release from Russian imprisonment, where she had been held for two years. She was captured by pro-Russian forces in June 2014, while serving with the Aidar volunteer battalion, and handed over to Russia on charges of murder and illegally crossing the Russian border.
Her political career began in November 2014, while still imprisoned in Russia, when she was elected to the Ukrainian parliament.
Photo credit: Volodymyr Hontar / UNIAN
How, why and with whom did Savchenko plan her “coup?” Hromadske breaks down what we know about the claims against the Ukrainian MP.
We also spoke to Anton Pechenkin, a political analyst and Maria Tomak, a human right activist, about Savchenko’s future.
Why did the Prosecutor General’s Office want to detain Savchenko?
According to the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office’s allegations, MP Nadiya Savchenko planned the “violent overthrow of the constitutional system and seizure of state power in Ukraine.”
The Prosecutor General’s Office claims that Savchenko conspired with a number of other people, in particular, the head of the Officer’s Corps Volodymyr Ruban and several officers from the 8th regiment of the Special Operations Forces of the Ukrainian army. It was these officers who “passed on” the MPs plans to the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), continuing to work on its “implementation” under the SBU’s supervision.
In order to do this, according to the investigation, Savchenko planned to commit an act of terrorism in the Ukrainian parliament, while the president, government, the Secretary of Ukraine’s Security and Defense Council Oleksandr Turchynov, and MPs were inside. According to the accusation, the plan was to kill all of the aforementioned people and even the law enforcement officers trying to protect the parliament building and high-ranking officials.
The rebels were going to shell the Ukrainian parliament with mortars, grenades, and firearms, while a meeting of the country’s highest-ranking officials took place inside. They were also supposed to throw grenades inside the building. At the same time, they had also planned attacks on the Presidential Administration and homes of President Poroshenko, Turchynov, and Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.
Photo credit: Viktoria Horoshun / Hromadske
According to the investigation, Savchenko was supposed to play the role of both organizer and participant in the attack. In particular, Savchenko was meant to detonate grenades inside the main session hall of the parliament building.
Who were Savchenko’s accomplices and where did the weapons come from?
According to the prosecution, the conspirators formulated their plans in several apartments in Kyiv and Bakhmut, as well as the 8th regiment of the Special Forces’ premises in Khmelnytsky, or, more precisely, the office of the regiment’s commander Oleh Nechayev.
From the investigation, it is understood that SBU officers recorded a certain part of the preparations on film.
In order to carry out these plans, they needed weapons. A lot of weapons. According to the investigation, the conspirators acquired them from the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”).
The first batch was provided by someone named Berezen. He appears under this codename in the text of Ruban and Savchenko’s allegation. This is Pavlo Balov, the Major of the 8th regiment of the special forces, known by his nomme de guerre “Kedr.” This occurred on November 23, 2017. The car was even stopped (at least that’s what was stated in a report from an SBU officer, which was released in court during Ruban’s March 9 hearing), and, after the car was inspected, it drove to premises of the 8th regiment of the special forces in Khmelnytsky.
Photo credit: Alexandr Ermochenko / EPA
The second batch of weapons from the occupied territory was transported by Ruban himself, in the same car – a white Mercedes Sprinter – on March 8, 2018. In the video released by the SBU, Ruban is seen crossing the Mayorsk checkpoint, signaling by hand to a person in military uniform. Ruban claims this person was Balov.
According to Ruban, all three suspects – Ruban, Savchenko and Balov – met, after Savchenko was released from prison in Russia. At the moment, it is not known when exactly they met, however, this most likely occurred in fall 2017. Again, according to Ruban, Savchenko herself introduced him to Balov, aka “Kedr”.
Savchenko has not stated how she came to know Balov, referring to this a “military secret.”
Instead, she refers to “Object A” (this is most likely Balov) – someone who was in “close contact” with her. She later realised that this was a “man from Bankova.” This was of interest to Savchenko, as this could help her gain unimpeded access in and out of the occupied territories, therefore bypassing official permission from the Ukrainian Security Service.
Obviously, Berezen’s surname was not supposed to be leaked, as with the name of the other alleged accomplices, but Ruban himself named Berezen, or “Kedr,” during the hearing.
Ukrainian officials who know “Kedr” describe him as an adventurist, someone who carries out “specific tasks,” for which he has a group of ex-cons, titushky (mercenaries, often dressed as hooligans, who famously assisted the police force under former president Viktor Yanukovych), former members of the volunteer Aidar battalion, and Maidan protesters.
What motivation could Savchenko have had?
In the investigation, the Prosecutor General’s Office characterizes MP Nadiya Savchenko as a “radically disposed individual, dissatisfied with the socio-economic situation in Ukraine and the actions of the leaders of the central government authority.”
Pavlo Balov, the Major of the 8th regiment of the special forces, known by his nomme de guerre “Kedr.” Photo credit: his social media page
According to the investigation, Savchenko, “having clear disrespect for the Ukrainian President, Verkhovna Rada (parliament) and government, wanting to assist a terrorist organization, colluded with Ruban, Zakharchenko, Tymofeyev and other unidentified individuals…to commit an act of terrorism, attempt to overthrow the government, murder Poroshenko and create chaos.”
The investigation also states that Savchenko was in a position to carry out everything that was planned without Ruban – who was already in custody – as she was “the developer, organizer, and participant of the plan.”
Photo credit: Vladislav Musiyenko / UNIAN
The Prosecutor General’s Office insist that there is a risk of her fleeing to the occupied territories in Donetsk and Luhansk or abroad, therefore, they have no choice but to keep her in custody, as it says in the investigation.
According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, Berezen (a.k.a “Kedr,” a.k.a Pavlo Balov) met with Savchenko in Kyiv on March 9, 2018 – the day court ruled to keep Ruban in custody. During the meeting, the MP even told him that she had eight F-1 grenades in her bag and that she would blow herself up, but she would “not be taken alive.”
What evidence does the investigation have?
Berezen’s (or “Kedr’s”) testimony is the main piece of evidence in this case. The prosecution cites the following as hard evidence:
A BlackBerry telephone found in the Mercedes Sprinter, which belonged to Ruban, and belonged to “Kedr” in November 2017. On the telephone, the investigation found “biological material, which belonged to a woman – probably Savchenko;”
A sheet of paper from the office of the commander of the military unit with a printout of the layout of the main session hall of the Ukrainian parliament. (Savchenko, as you can guess from the text of the investigation, is captured on video in this office. The office belongs to the commander of the 8th regiment of the special forces Oleh Nechayev – “Kedr’s” commander.)
A video recording of Savchenko and her “accomplices” planning to overthrow the government.
A YouTube video of Savchenko visiting the occupied territories.
Savchenko actually was in the occupied territories at the end of November 2017, at the Makiivka penal colony No.97 in particular, where Ukrainian soldiers were being held at the time, most of whom were released in the December 27 prisoner swap. The released prisoners confirmed to Hromadske journalists that Savchenko visited them and brought them jackets.
What does Savchenko say about this?
The MP stated that everything journalists have seen in the videos of her is part of a “political provocation.”
Photo credit: Vlad Muchenko / EPA
“They’ve repeatedly tried to remove me from Bankova, so they can clean up. As soon as I realized that “Object A” had contacted me, I tried to turn the situation around, in order to settle this ‘political provocation.’ What you see in the video – the offices where I met with acquaintances, friends, as well as “Object A,” the recordings of the secret hotels – is from the grey zone.”
“‘Object A’ interested me because he facilitated passage across the demarcation line for the released prisoners (at the time, no one had been released from prison – ed.). ‘Object A’ was interested in documenting and noting down everything I did, therefore I started to build the surrealism.”
The MP insists that she proposed various “strange” plans to blow up the parliament and acts of terrorism. According to her, “Object A” proposed to try and eradicate the upper house on Turchynov’s birthday. All of this, Savchenko says, was said as a joke. For example, she proposed releasing gas into the parliament and poisoning everyone. According to her, “Object A” was tasked with finding out her funding sources.
Savchenko claims that the weapons Ruban brought over from the occupied territories were supposed to be used against the “enemy” on their territory so that they would blame their own guys, as opposed to Ukrainian soldiers.
Photo credit: UNIAN
The Ukrainian MP also insists that she would never blow up the parliament if there was even one innocent person inside.
/By Nastya Stanko
/Translated by Sofia Fedeczko